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Pneumonia (lung infection)

Pneumonia is a chest infection that people of all ages can get. It can be serious and sometimes life-threatening. Older people and people with poor health or lung disease tend to get it more often. It's also usually worse in these people.

You get pneumonia by breathing in bacteria, viruses or other germs, which then infect your lungs.

The air sacs at the end of your small airways, called alveoli, and the surrounding lung tissue become inflamed. They can fill with infected fluid, which makes it hard to breathe.

Symptoms of pneumonia

Symptoms include:

Older people might not have a fever or any specific symptoms, but you might notice that they're confused or agitated.


If you or someone with you has these symptoms, is confused, and is very short of breath or has blue lips or fingers, see a doctor immediately.

Diagnosing pneumonia

To diagnose pneumonia, your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms and examine you. You may need a chest X-ray. Sometimes your doctor will ask for a sputum (phlegm) sample or take a swab of mucus from your nose.

It's important to tell your doctor if you've been gardening with potting mix or have been overseas recently. These things can lead to different lung infections that need different treatment.

Treating pneumonia

Pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics, either as tablets or into a vein (intravenous) if the infection is more severe.

If your pneumonia is caused by a virus such as the flu, it will not respond to antibiotics.

Your doctor may decide you're well enough to stay at home with antibiotic tablets. You should go back to your doctor to be checked after 24 hours. If you think you're getting worse, see a doctor straight away. Do not wait until your next appointment.

If your infection is more severe or you have other health conditions, you may need to be treated in hospital.

Self-care for pneumonia

It's important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with the fever and pains.

After you've taken antibiotics for three days, tell your doctor if you aren't feeling any better. You might need to take a different antibiotic.

Preventing pneumonia

Do not smoke. This is the most important way of reducing chest infections.

Make sure you have a flu vaccination every year if you have a long-term health condition such as COPD.

Keep up to date with COVID-19 booster vaccinations.

Some people with specific health issues should get the pneumococcal vaccine. Talk to your GP about whether this applies to you.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2021.


See also:

Eating and drinking when you're unwell

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